The War Inside Occidental over Title IX and Sexual Assault

Occidental College, a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles, provides an illuminating example of the internal battles that are occurring between radical feminist faculty and administrators, with students caught in the middle. This particularly extreme example provides a window into the obsessions and paranoia within the campus.

Occidental is the school that is infamously the center of many lawsuits and Title IX complaints, including:

Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition Title IX complaint, filed April 2013, alleging under-reporting of rape cases and harassment of faculty.

John Doe vs. Occidental suit in LA Superior Court, filed February 2014.

John Doe Title IX complaint, filed October, 2014.

– A second John Doe vs. Occidental suit in LA Superior Court, filed August, 2014 .

And a large amount of negative churn in the public press:

The LA Times got sucked into this mess, and a reporter at the LA Times was fired for his inappropriate relationship with his source: The ambiguous LA Times/Occidental rift. (Columbia Journalism Review)

Faculty no confidence votes have occurred against Dean of Students Barbara Avery and other administration officials. Inside The Sexual Assault Civil War At Occidental College (BuzzFeed)
The Pepper Hamilton report was commissioned by Occidental “to provide an objective and neutral audit and assessment of the College’s response to sexual and gender-based harassment and violence under Title IX…”
But the members of the OSAC were livid with it’s results: Pepper Hamilton report draws criticism from faculty members (Occidental Weekly)

The players:

While too many to list, it is interesting to highlight some of the individuals involved and their connections:

Occidental has some special relationships with the federal government: the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has been the source of many of the pressures on schools, and now coincidentally, Ted Mitchell, the former president of Occidental College, is now the undersecretary of the Department of Education, in charge of issues affecting colleges and universities. Not to mention a rather famous former student: Barack Obama.


OSAC banner

The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) was formed to challenge the school to take sexual assault accusations more seriously. Membership includes the two lead complainants in the Title IX complaintProfessor Caroline Heldman and Professor Danielle Dirks, who coincidentally are married to each other. Along with Professor Movindri Reddy, the two have been outspoken critics of the College.

Caroline Heldman (from her twitter profile)

Caroline Heldman (from her twitter profile)

To understand her extreme partisanship, Caroline Heldman’s words speak for themselves. In an article by Emily Shugerman, a Ms. Magazine intern (and Occidental campus newspaper editor), Men Sue in Campus Sexual Assault Cases, Caroline Heldman stated, “These lawsuits are an incredible display of entitlement, the same entitlement that drove them to rape.” (The piece backfired in the article’s comments and across the web with commentary stating that the right to defend oneself against false accusations does not show “incredible entitlement,” but rather a fundamental constitutional right.)

Professor Reddy is a co-signer of An Open Letter to the Faculty Members Who Helped to Pass the No Confidence Vote, a direct attack on the Dean of Students and other school administrators.

OSAC vs. College administration

The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC) has been willing to go on the attack in the press. For example: Heldman says Dean of Students Barbara Avery told her, “I admit my staff has been basically rejecting all of your ideas because faculty are too pushy on this issue.”

OCR vs. College

The Office of Civil Rights, part of the federal Department of Education, has been investigating the school since May of 2013.

But some of the women were more interested in a settlement than seeing the cases through. From L.A. Weekly: “In September, at least 10 of the students settled their case with the school, accepting an undisclosed sum. The complaints are still being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education.”

The current status of this investigation is unknown to this author, but it is close to two years long, requiring an incredible amount of legal resources and fees.

Break-ins and/or paranoia

From the L.A. Weekly: “… Photos and emails provided to the [L.A.] Weekly by a source at Occidental show that the locked workspace of the woman with whom [LA. Times Reporter] Felch had become romantically involved, a professor [Heldman?], had been broken into just weeks before Felch was fired. The college source tells the Weekly that the professor’s personal journal was stored in that workspace and included notes about her affair with Felch. After the break-in, journal pages detailing the affair were left splayed across the woman’s desk.”

But, the facts are questionable: “Heldman appears sane, however, compared to the unnamed paramour–who confided that she now only uses a new phone, which she paid for in cash, because she feared someone might be listening in to her conversations. Why? Her “personal iPhone had been acting strangely: flashing every few minutes while she wrote text messages or emails, as if the phone were taking screenshots, and running the battery down seven or eight times a day.” Rather than consider that the phone simply was malfunctioning, the paramour appears to believe that someone, Jason Bourne style, was accessing her personal information. The anonymous professor conceded that she had no actual evidence that the college was monitoring her, but “whether or not you’re actually being surveilled, if you think you are, it’s still destructive.”

Campus atmosphere

pepperhamiltonThe Pepper Hamilton report discusses the campus atmosphere and how it affects fair and reasonable debate on campus:

Concerns expressed to us by students, staff and faculty include:

…“There is a culture of fear on the campus – fear to express a view that is contrary to OSAC. This fear exists in faculty, in administrators and in students and has changed the course of education at Oxy.”

The press stories about the reaction of the OSAC to the Pepper Hamilton report show the vitriol.

How this affects the students:

John Doe’s Title IX complaint, alleging gender discrimination against himself as a male, argues that the female complainant (Jane Doe) was counselled by Professor Danielle Dirks and Movindri Reddy to convince her that she had indeed been raped, despite her initial protestations that her consensual sex ‘didn’t feel like rape.’ According to Jane Doe, Dirks told Jane that John fit the profile of other rapists on campus in that he had a high GPA in high school, was his class valedictorian, was on a [sports team], and was “from a good family.”20150402_092017

From the complaint:

Instead of obtaining more than cursory counseling by the Emmons Health Center staff, Jane Doe spent many hours with Professor Reddy. According to her testimony: “She said that Professor Reddy put her in touch with Professor Danielle Dirks. On Tuesday night, Jane Doe said, she met with Professor Dirks for three hours, and told her the entire story…. During this period, Jane Doe stated, she went to see Professor Reddy every day to talk about what had happened, and how she was dealing with it.”

Professor Reddy went on to become Jane Doe’s advocate/advisor through the internal Occidental hearing process.

Further statements from the Title IX complaint show the manipulation of Jane Doe to convince her that her consensual sexual acts were actually rape:

In Professor Dirk’s testimony, in her discussions with Ms. Doe, she repeatedly profiled John Doe as a rapist. Excerpts from her testimony bear this out:

  • Dirks stated that, during that [initial] phone conversation, she used the phrase “rape” to describe the incident, and Jane Doe responded, “Oh, I am not calling it rape yet….”
  • Dirks stated she told Jane Doe that there was a pattern at the College of male students who repeatedly engaged in the practice of having sex with highly intoxicated women. Jane Doe told Dirks that the student with whom she had sex was a freshman….
  • Dirks stated that she believed that Jane Doe was experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Dirks stated that Jane Doe appeared to be “in a strong state of denial” about the events, and told her at one point that she was not yet able to call the incident “rape….” Dirks noted that Jane Doe’s reluctance to call what had happened to her “rape” was consistent with other victims of sexual assault whom Dirks has talked to on campus.
  • Dirks stated that based on her experience [redacted] John was “acting in the same way all these other young men [involved in sexual assaults] have acted” by checking in on Jane Doe after the incident, and seeking to manage her (Jane Doe) by being nice in a manner that Dirks described as “disingenuous.”

This leads to a troubling question: where were the real psychologists, the licensed professionals that should have been helping this confused young women, and why did these extreme partisans (in an active fight with the college) feel it was their job to convince Jane Doe that she was a victim?

Press regarding the John Doe vs. Occidental case

The first John Doe vs. Occidental case has become a powerful influence on the nationwide debate on affirmative consent. I was told by a friend that the text message evidence in this case was read aloud at a high-profile panel discussion at the Jewish Community Center of New York. The audience gasped. By forcing John Doe’s lawyer to publicly reveal internal documents, Occidental has given the public insight about what really happens in these cases.

Here is a sampling of national media coverage:

More college men are fighting back against sexual misconduct cases, June 7, 2014, LA Times

Good grades, good home gets college student profiled as rapist, claims lawsuit, June 6, 2014, Fox News

Campuses must distinguish between assault and youthful bad judgment, June 9, 2014, LA Times

Men Sue in Campus Sexual Assault Cases, June 18, 2014, Ms Magazine

Judge denies Occidental request to seal suit over expulsion, June 18, 2014, LA Times

Colleges get new rules on dating violence, June 19, 2014, USA Today

Sexual Assault Witnesses At Occidental College Subjected To Vile Harassment Emails, July 22, 2014, Huffington Post   (One of the very few media attempts to oppose John Doe’s case.)

How ‘Consensual’ Sex Got A Freshman Kicked Out Of College And Started A Huge Debate, Sept 15, 2014, Business Insider (viewed over 136,000 times)

Rape on campus: US universities accused of letting down both victims and accused, Sept 29, 2014, The Telegraph

‘Rape culture’ leads to manhunts on campus, Aug 11, 2014, NY Post

Neo-Victorianism on Campus, Oct. 20, 2014, Weekly Standard

The College Rape Overcorrection, Dec 7, 2014,

Heather Mac Donald: College feminists once again making men the guardians of female safety, Dec 1, 2014, Dallas News

Harvard Professor Fears The School’s Rape Policy Will Punish Students For Drunk Sex, Jan 7, 2014, Business Insider

Occidental Justice: The Disastrous Fallout When Drunk Sex Meets Academic Bureaucracy, March 25, 2015, Esquire Magazine (This article is over 10,000 words long and focused nearly exclusively on this case.)

A hint of how this most recent story in Esquire Magazine is playing out in the college atmosphere can be found in these words from a female student writing in the Occidental Weekly:

… when I voiced my concern about the article’s bias to a few of my guy friends, they shared with me that they interpreted the article as simply fact.

Reading between the lines, the guys at Occidental: a) are reading the Esquire article, and b) see that it confirms what they are feeling on campus. As reported on this site, Occidental had 60 sexual assaults reported in 2013; I bet all were men, and that they all resulted in expulsion. Since that would be 6% of Occidental’s male population, the odds are extremely high that every male student knows someone accused of sexual assault. The Esquire article just confirms to these guys that something is seriously wrong at Occidental.

I have to wonder, at an institution with a 25% turnover in their customer base every year (like all 4-year colleges), how can Occidental stand to see its reputation so deeply tarnished?

Overall conclusions:

What a mess. It sounds like everybody has been fighting, everyone is still fighting, the students are stuck in the middle, and there is so much distrust. The Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition yells and screams like they have lost, but administrators are so scared of OSAC that no one will speak up. It sounds to me like everyone thinks they are losing and that the battle lines are nasty and public. The way OSAC has attacked the Pepper Hamilton report in the press shows the level of vitriol in the relationships. I doubt that the Oxy culture is going to see peace anytime soon.

Update 4/23/2015:

Danielle Dirks and Caroline Heldman are ‘not at the College this semester’ according to the college president. Why, and for how long, they are on leave is unknown.

There are now THREE John Doe vs. Occidental cases: a new one has been filed and several more appear to be coming soon.

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